How to Help Children of Different Ages Cope with a Death
Adapted from an article by Earl A. Grollman, D.H.L., D.D.
Some people believe that children are just too young to understand the meaning of death, that they shouldn't be burdened with thoughts they cannot possibly grasp, and that they should be spared adult grief.
But children growing up today are well aware of the reality of death. They seem to have built-in lie detectors and know something ominous is occurring in their small world. We cannot protect them from the tragedies of life, but we can exercise considerable influence by modeling healthy attitudes.
There are many variables that affect children's understanding of death, such as who died, where, when, and how, and how the death will affect the child, as well as the child's prior experiences with loss. And of course, there is the developmental age. It is important to remember that children of the same age may differ widely in their comprehension and behavior. It is impossible to fit perceptions into a fixed-age category. For all of us, the meaning of death changes as our life changes. The following are but general guidelines that might prove helpful.
Ages Five to Nine
Because of their life experiences, youngsters this age are better able to understand the meaning of physical death. Death is final. Living things must die. But they may not think of it as happening to them. At this stage, they may neither deny death nor accept its inevitability. A compromise is made. Death is "real" – but only for others, the aged.
Some tend to consider death comes in the form of a person or spirit. Those who watch horror shows may believe death is a bogeyman, a skeleton, or a ghost that makes the rounds late at night and selectively carries away helpless victims.
They want to know about the physical aspects of the death, "How did the person die?" "Was she killed?" "Was there a lot of pain?" "How does she look now?" "What happens to the body?"
What you can do:
Children in this age range cope best when they receive simple, honest, and accurate information. If they desire, let them attend the services for that which is more visible and mentionable is clearly more manageable. Don't be afraid to show your grief. Adults' controlled behavior is more difficult for them to handle than expressed sorrow.
Ages Ten and Older
Now children can formulate realistic concepts based on observation. Death is not a person but a perceptible end of bodily life. Dead is dead. It is final and universal. It is brought about by natural as well as accidental causes. Death is that inevitable experience which happens to all, including the child.
Death as the end of life is especially frightening and painful for young people ten years of age and older. Death is now a biological failure of organs to function. The magical, life-renewing conception of death is replaced by one that is terminal and fearsome. This perspective carries with it feelings of fragility as young people search for their own identity and philosophy of life and death.
When a loved one dies, children of this age may have difficulty in concentrating, exhibit a decline in the quality of their schoolwork, become withdrawn and isolated from family and friends, and seem persistently angry and sad. There could be frequent physical complaints with constant fatigue and frequent drowsiness. For older children, unresolved grief may be reflected in drug or alcohol abuse, impulsive behavior, and increased risk-taking. Instead of controlling their moods, their moods control them.
What you can do:
The way in which youngsters work through their grief depends a great deal on how family members and friends reach out to them. The more they are encouraged to share their grief, the more likely they will be better able to cope with the loss in their life. Grieving may help to bring direction to their lives as they become more open to others. "After this, I know I can handle anything," one youth said. "I now know that our family will stick together and who my real friends are. I'm able to remember the person who died without always crying by thinking of some of the great times we had together."
Make sense of death at an age-appropriate level in a safe physical and psychological environment. The goal is to understand that death is irreversible and permanent, involving the cessation of all physiological functioning. The ways of helping children cope are as limitless as adults' patience, caring, and love.
We all know that it is important to get a good night's sleep at any age!
Just sending them on their way
Families have all had quite a few days together. So don’t just send the kids out the door as vacation ends, as you would if they had been in school yesterday.
“As a goodbye on the first day back to school or work, be sure to smile and tell your child that even though you won’t be together (or you’ll miss each other) today, you’ll still be thinking about him and you know he’ll be thinking about you,” says Beth Griffith, a D.C. -based child and adult psychotherapist.
After a long break from school, one that included lots of overstimulation, fun and major changes in routines, children who tend to be anxious may have a tough time transitioning back and separating from their parents.
Think about it: It’s hard even for many of us adults to return to our early wakeups, deadlines, jobs and schedules.
“When one’s parent isn’t beside her, a child has to find a place in her mind where she can recall a picture of mom or dad,” Griffith says. “Simply verbalizing that can help both parent and child manage the missing and can reassure your child that you’ll be internally there even if not physically present.”
Helping your child to internalize loved ones and to use language to help think about and understand those feelings “are two of the most crucial developmental coping skills you can help your child gain,” she says. “Plus you’ll be sending the message that you’re confident in his ability to use those coping skills.”Excerpted from Amy Joyce Six things every parent needs to stop doing right now
Adapted from review by Mari-Jane Williams Post Points
Children's wellness is influenced by many factors including adequate sleep, physical exercise, personal/social relationships, and healthy eating. If you are trying to figure out how to teach your children good eating habits and how to have a healthy relationship with food, check out, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
The book, written by two dietitians Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobson, offers recipes and tips on meal planning, nutrition and fitting cooking into a busy schedule. Here are some tips, from the book:
*Rotate different fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and protein sources frequently in your child's diet. The more variety your child eats... the better her chances are of meeting specific nutrient requirements. Remember not to get hung up on how your child eats one day; instead, consider her intake over the course of the week.
*Instead of overcontrolling how much children eat ("You can have one cookie"), allow them to enjoy the sweets in a focused way until they are satisfied: "Let's sit at the table and enjoy the cookies."
*Serve meals family-style and allow your child to serve himself, helping him if he is under five years old. Serving items separately instead of mixing foods can help.
*Add foods to your teen's diet that lower cholesterol naturally: oats; barley; beans; eggplant; okra; nuts; vegetable oils; strawberries; citrus fruits; apples; grapes; soy; fatty fish; and foods fortified with sterols and stanols, such as margarine, granola, and chocolate.
"Pathways to Wellness" - this year's theme for Mental Health Month - calls attention to strategies and approaches that help all Americans achieve wellness and good mental and overall health. Wellness involves complete general, mental and social well-being, and mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect and encourage individuals and communities to support children and families.
How does domestic violence affect children?
Domestic violence often includes child abuse. Children may be victimized and threatened as a way of punishing and controlling the adult victim of domestic violence. Or they may be injured unintentionally when acts of violence occur in their presence. Often episodes of domestic violence expand to include attacks on children. However, even when children are not directly attacked, they can experience serious emotional damage as a result of living in a violent household. Children living in this environment come to believe that this behavior is acceptable.
The estimated overlap between domestic violence and child physical or sexual abuse ranges from 30 to 50 percent. Some shelters report that the first reason many battered women give for fleeing the home is that the perpetrator was also attacking the children. Victims report multiple concerns about the effects of spousal abuse on children.
In Arlington County if you suspect Child Abuse (Child Protective Services) call 703-228-1500.
Parents More Influential Than Schools in Academic Success
Small Counseling Groups at Nottingham 2012-13
The purpose of a counseling group at school is to complement and enhance student learning by helping students improve their perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. A psycho-educational group provides a safe setting where children increase their: 1) self-awareness, 2) cooperation and communication skills, and 3) ability to have fun with peers. Children learn from each other and help each other. Ultimately, the goal of an elementary support group is to PREVENT problems in the future by teaching children new skills.
The counselors are getting ready to start small groups in early October. To help us prioritize the groups we offer and the order we conduct them we need to know if you are interested in your child participating in a small group with one of us this year. Groups generally meet for 25-40 minutes per week with the number of sessions dependent on the purpose and needs of the group. This is our starting list but other groups can be added as needed:
Friendship Groups / Social Skill Development (Grades 1-4) 6-11 sessions
Friendship Groups are a fun way for students in the same grade level to make new friends and practice their social skills in a safe, small group setting. Children are invited to participate in friendship groups for a variety of reasons. A few examples include: a child who is shy or often appears to play alone during free choice time or recess, a child exhibiting behaviors that unknowingly (to the child) “turn off” others, a child who repeatedly complains of not having any friends, a child who has a hard time initiating friendships, a child who lacks self-confidence, and/or who needs a confidence boost, or a child who is very accepting and easily befriends other children (always a very beneficial addition to a group). Role models are welcome!
Emotion Management (Grades 2- 4) 8-11 sessions
These groups are designed to assist children in developing strategies to help them understand their feelings and put them in perspective so they can better relax , cope, learn and have fun with friends. The child who might benefit from being in this group may worry a lot, may show a great deal of resistance to try new experiences, may often seem anxious, have a lot of fears and/or make frequent trips to the nurse for headaches and tummy aches. Children who exhibit one of the above, or a combination, can develop understanding and coping strategies in a fun, safe environment.
Impulse Control (Grades 1 & 2) 9-10 sessions
By utilizing the principles of learning such as modeling, role-playing, feedback and transfer students will be taught prosocial behaviors. Children will be encouraged to “think before they act” by providing them with new skills, sufficient practice and reinforcement in their home and school environments.
Families In Separate Homes (Grade 1) or All Kinds of Families (Grade 3) 8-9 sessions
Family Change Groups are for students whose family is something other than the traditional mom, dad, and child(ren). These groups are beneficial to students by enabling them to meet other children going through a similar experience. Many students find comfort in discovering they are “not the only one” in the school with a family that has experienced a change or does not look like the families of most of their classmates. Students also develop a greater comfort discussing feelings and skills they might need to express themselves.
Study Skills and Organization Groups (Grades 4 & 5) 6-8 sessions
Being successful in school and building a solid academic foundation is important to future success. Based on the specific needs of the group skill building activities will be taught, practiced, encouraged, structured, and maintained for children to be successful. These skills may consist of listening, focusing, being organized, using time efficiently, knowing how to study, completing homework, knowing how to take tests, and maintaining a good attitude are all essential skills for school success.
Girl Empowerment (Grades 4 & 5) 6-7 sessions
These groups are designed to strengthen self-esteem and self-perception. The groups promote awareness about how certain environments can affect self-esteem and encourages resiliency.
5th Grade Book & Bag Lunch (Separate Groups for Girls and Boys) 6-7 sessions
All 5th grade students are invited to participate in a 5th Grade book discussion group at lunch that will focus on peer relationships and how to navigate the sometimes tricky waters of friendship. Students who sign up will be loaned a book to read and discuss dealing with topics that include peer pressure, cliques, being different, and fitting in.
Lunch Bunch (Kindergarten) 3-5 sessions
All kindergarten students are invited to participate in our informal “Lunch Bunch" program. Students whose parents sign them up are periodically invited to come eat their lunch in the counselor's office with a few of their classmates. Lunch bunches provide a chance for conversation and games. The focus is on developing friendship and social skills. Groups rotate each week to ensure that all students get an opportunity to participate.
Most children can benefit from participation in a small group. Students can be invited to join a group by parent request, teacher suggestion, or by student request. We do our best to work around your child’s schedule and not interrupt their academic learning. If you'd like for your child to participate, contact one of the counselors.